On Dea, Hischier's strong start, and Boyle's PK usage
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While slotting a recent waiver claim on the 2nd line is far from ideal, I don't mind the decision to give J.S. Dea a chance in that role.
For one, you need a shooter alongside Marcus Johansson and Pavel Zacha. They're pass-happy playmakers and someone needs to be willing to pull the trigger. To this point, Dea has done that.
Through six games Dea ranks 2nd to Taylor Hall in 5v5 shots on goal/60 and 3rd to Hall and Miles Wood in shot attempts/60. Dea also ranks 5th in the entire NHL in individual expected goals for/60. In other words, he's generating shots in dangerous areas at a high clip.
We know Stefan Noesen is not the answer in that spot and John Quenneville hasn't done enough to warrant a look. If the Devils are stacking the top line, and don't want anyone playing their off-side, Dea looks to be the best option as RW2.
I don't think Nico Hischier is getting enough credit for how good he has been to start the season. He leads the league in high-danger chances per game (3.0), penalty differential per game (+1.16), and the Devils are expected to score a ludicrous 65.6% of the goals with him on the ice at 5v5. He has been absolutely spectacular and hardly been rewarded with just one goal and four points to his credit. I think he is in line for an offensive explosion.
One thing to keep your eye on as the season progresses: Brian Boyle's penalty killing usage. Last season John Hynes gave him less than 20 minutes of ice in that game state. Several PKers moved on, which freed up ice, and Boyle is already up to 16:22 as a result. I generally prefer guys who can skate when down a man – it's easier to pressure and there is obviously more ground to cover – but so far he has held up very well. His shot suppression numbers are solid and Pavel Zacha is the only regular PK forward who has been on for fewer expected goals against per minute played.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey.
On the top line, 2nd pairing, and Zacha's slow start
On lineup decisions when Bratt returns, 5v5 dominance, and Butcher
On Johansson, Butcher, and a clear matchup pairing